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6 tips to master restaurant employee scheduling


If you're spending too much time wrestling with staff scheduling, from availability to accountability, you probably have the sense that you're not alone. And you're right! Scheduling restaurant employees is an ongoing concern across the industry. The good news is that some people have learned to do it well. That means there's actionable information and tested tools to address the very dynamics that are keeping you up at night.

Here are six tips for mastering your restaurant employee scheduling.

1. Make the schedule as far in advance as you can

Complete your schedules and get them to your crews in advance, so employees can request changes if needed. While last minute changes are a reality at any restaurant, having a regular pattern with some variation is much less stressful than having to change the schedule several times in a matter of days. Some employees may be holding down two jobs, but all employees have some time-sensitive commitments away from work. Can you post a team schedule one week out? Or prepare a manager schedule for a month out, updated with later adjustments? The earlier you can post the schedule, the better it is for everyone.

2. Provide a mix of shifts

Some shifts are busy and enjoyable and others can be slow and boring. While you know this as a general principle, managers should check in on how sales are tracking by day of the week and hour of the day at least every few months. With your clear grasp of this fluctuation, it's easier to assign a fair mix of shifts each week. Let employees know you aim to spread the busy and slow shifts around and that you'll be sure that new hires and senior staff each get some good assignments.

3. Give your top revenue generators some priority

The champs on your team should be known and emulated by their co-workers. Identify people who know how to boost drinks and food orders. These employees are your speed as a sales generators. The faster and more efficiently (queue our speed of service playbook) your employees can get food to your customers, the more transactions (and therefore, sales) you’ll have. Rewarding them with better shifts also rewards the restaurant's bottom line.

Everyone needs to know that the employees who can turn up the revenue stream will have some extra pull when the schedule is put together. Yes, this has to be balanced with the share-the-bounty viewpoint, since you don't want to increase turnover among the rest of the team, but be sure people know that the scheduling tie-breaker will be who drives more sales. This will always seem fairer than the all-too-common scheduling favoritism based on seniority, family connections, and social hierarchies seen at many establishments.

With the right technology, you can measure which employees work most efficiently with each other. You’ll be able to aggregate and analyze data to find patterns in revenue drivers, and who works best with who. Those results should play in to your scheduling, so you can maximize your revenue while planning out your calendar!

4. Aim to provide two days off in a row

While some of your employees may say they don't care about having a weekend, or may even have other commitments that make it impossible to have two days off in sequence, start out by setting two consecutive days off for each full-time employee. If you can't make that work, create the schedule you need with the consent of anybody who is not getting two free days in a row.

It’s also wise to schedule shorter shifts to keep the team fresh. Limit scheduled shifts to 5-8 hours, and it’ll go a long way towards keeping your team fresh and your guests happy.

You may find employees who express eagerness to work as much as possible all the time. Be alert to both worker burnout and legal restrictions in these situations. State laws vary but may mandate overtime pay based on consecutive days worked.

5. Arrange shifts based on the needs of the day

As you build out schedules, do you talk to employees about when they feel there's a typical rush? Are customers waiting because there are not enough servers for the lunchtime surge? Can you see the patterns in your POS data? Usually, the schedule will be your answer to problems stemming from demand patterns throughout the week.

In order to most efficiently arrange your team shifts, use a schedule-building tool that allows you to position the employees as you build the schedule. Doing this will make sure everything is properly covered throughout the course of the day.

6. Accommodate emergency shift swaps logically

Having a mechanism for requesting time off in advance is an obvious way to help employees manage their lives. But sudden needs also arise. A major coping mechanism for personal time demands on a restaurant staff is shift swapping. This can work nicely so long as there is accountability and transparency about the process, using a process you have predefined.

The two employees must indicate wanting to swap shifts in a defined manner. These days, the best approach to accountability with swaps may be with an app. Crew scheduling software puts the responsibility of requests in the palm of each employee's hand and opens up staff communications in a mode that's familiar to your modern workforce. Using an app such as Crew also allows you another mode for favorable feedback that keeps your best people feeling respected for their efforts.

Swaps are not just convenient for employees, they can save managers a lot of time and confusion. Note that your employees may not know when a co-worker is close to overtime limits or is underage and may be subject to different state restrictions on hours or schedule. The goal is to let the swapping work itself out, but realistically, some intelligent attention will be needed to keep the system working for everyone's benefit.

Overall, many of your restaurant scheduling headaches can be addressed by more effectively communicating your needs, listening to employees, sharing useful information with the team – perhaps with a clever app – and building that culture of respect and accountability one day at a time.


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